The Three Gorges (downriver from Chongqing between Fengjie, Sichuan and Yichang, Hubei) is one of China's five premier tourist sights along with the Great Wall, the Forbidden City, Xian and Guilin. The gorges have recently filled up with water and become part of the reservoir behind the Three Gorges Dam. The scenery is not as spectacular as it once was but is still pretty good.
Extending for almost 200 kilometers, the Three Rivers Gorge is a channel of rock cut through towering mountains by the Yangtze River. What makes the area so incredible is the height of the limestone mountains, the steepness of the cliffs, and the narrowness of the river. In some places the cliffs are 800 meters high. In other places, there are fantastic rock towers and crags with ferns, plants and trees growing on ledges and in cracks. In the distance are green mountains. Along the slopes are farmers tending small plots. Along some of the cliffs are waterfalls and 2000-year-old “hanging coffins." On the shores are some dirty industrial towns.
Through much of the gorges, there is no shore or place for a boat to go except down river. In the narrower portions of the gorges the water used to move with alarming speed but has now been smoothed out by the Three Gorges Dam. In other places, the water has always been calm and sailboats can actually be pushed upstream by powerful winds that gain force where the gorge narrows.
The most famous gorges are just below Bai De ("White King City") and the lesser gorges are just above Yichang. The Three Gorges themselves are: Wu (the deepest gorge), Xiling (the longest gorge) and Qutang (only five miles long but regarded the most beautiful of the three gorges). According to legend they were created by the goddess Yao Ji to redirect the Yangtze around the petrified remains of a dozen dragons she had slain for tormenting peasants.
Yangtze Gorges Scenic Spot: was nominated to be a UNESCO World Heritage site in. 2001. According to a report submitted to UNESCO: “According to a report submitted to UNESCO: The Yangtze Gorges is one of the first key national scenic spots (in 1982). They start at Baidicheng in Fengjie County, Chongqing and end at Nanjin Pass in Yichang, Hubei Province. The gorges themselves are 193 kilometers long and cover an area of 1208 square kilometers, including Wuxia gorge, Qutang gorge, Xiling gorge and some wide valleys between these gorges. Qutang Gorge is 8 kilometers long and is celebrated for its magnificent, peculiar and precipitous scenery in the world; Wuxia Gorge is 42 kilometers long and is serene and secluded and presents a panorama of lovely scenery; and Xiling Gorge is 66 kilometers long and is well-known for its dangerous rugged shoals and the turbulent waters. [Source: National Commission of the People's Republic of China]
“ The history of the scenic spots and historical sites in the Three Gorges area can go back to ancient times and it recorded many stirring historical deeds. The mountains and water in Three Gorges are in various postures and are a mysterious natural gallery. The Three Gorges has become world-famous for its large and precipitous valleys and rich historical and cultural intentions. They can be for sightseeing, sport, exploration, archaeological studies and scientific investigation. In 1985 the Three Gorges Scenic Spot was appraised as one of China’s ten scenic spots, and in 1989, both the Three Gorges of Yangtze River and the Lesser Three Gorges of Daninghe River won the title of China’s 40 best scenic spots.”
Geology and Hydrology of the Three Gorges
According to a report submitted to UNESCO: The Three Gorges of Yangtze River is located in east Sichuan folded zone and Bamian Mountain folded zone and belongs to the part of upwared zone in Neocathaysian structural system. This area was subjected to several structural changes. The Jinning Movement before the Sinian Period caused the metamorphosis of rock, the folding of rock formation and the magnetic intrusion, and thus forming palaeogeologic structure with the crystal bed-rock mainly toward northwest. During Sinian period to Triassic Period, the structural Changes were mainly vibration or elevation and subsidence movement, and there was no folding and magnetic intrusion. [Source: National Commission of the People's Republic of China]
“The Yenshan movement occurred at the end of Jurassic Period mainly embodied in the folding and disrupter of overlying strata, thus laying down the present structure. The Himalayan movement mainly utilized and reformed the ruptured structural face of the early-formed structure and folding was not developed. In recent period, new structures are characterized by large-area upward zone and there are no movements with marked difference. In this area, the strata all emerged out except the lack of strata in the upper Devonian, carboniferous and Triassic periods, which is the natural records revealing the process of geological evolution in the Three Gorges area.
“In this area, the terrain rises and falls, most of emerged bed rock are limestone, rainfall is abundant, water flow deeply cuts off the strata, karst landform is well developed, many valleys, deep gullies, stranger peaks and peculiar rocks were formed, and karst landscapes such as spring and waterfall can be seen everywhere. The river gorges are the main landscapes. In the Three Gorges Section of Yangtze River, water resource is very abundant, about 80 streams and branches flow into Yangtze River, and the streams, special shapes and organic composition of mountains and rivers constitute changeable and magnificent landscapes of the Three Gorges.”
Three Gorges Ecosystem
According to a report submitted to UNESCO: The Three Gorges scenic area is located in subtropical moist monsoon climate zone, belongs to the transition zone of subtropical zone and temperate zone, has the features of rich quantity of heat, full of sunshine, abundant rainfall, and synchronization of water and heat. The vegetation and plants have marked transition characteristics; their types and species are very complicated and show large diversity. The Three Gorge scenic spot contains different ecological environment from rivers, flatlands, lower hills to medium mountains and has abundant species of living beings. The wild animal resources include 570 species of vertebrates, with 69 species of animals, 124 species of birds, 15 species of reptiles, 12 species of amphibians and 92 species of fishes. [Source: National Commission of the People's Republic of China]
“Two kinds of wild animals including golden monkey and south China tiger are listed as the national Class I protected wild animals. 9 kinds of wild animals including giant and lesser civets, Chinese pangolin, musk deer, giant salamander, rhesus monkey, tufted deer, clouded leopard and black finless porpoise are listed as the national Class II protected wild animals. Bharal and red-belly pheasant are listed as the national Class III protected wild animals. In the scenic area, there is the national key protected aquatic animal — Chinese sturgeon and a breeding base for Chinese sturgeon is set up at Hexingzhou, Yichang County.
“ The Three Gorges scenic area has numerous varieties of plant species, the preliminary statistics show that there are 166 families of vascular plants with 762 categories and 2093 species, of which there are 20 families of pteridophyta with 37 categories and 91 species, 6 families of angiospermous with 17 categories and 29 species, 123 families of dicotyls with 598 categories and 1694 species, and 17 families of monocotyls with 134 categories and 279 species. 35 species of plants are listed as endemic plants, such as lotus-leaf brake, dawn redwood, dove tree and so on. 36 species of plants are listed in the ‘Directory of the National Key Protected Plants’, of which, the dove tree is the Class I protected plant, 16 are Class II protected plants such as maidenhair tree, Qinling fir, three-pin fir, white sandalwood, walnut tree, Chinese tulip tree and so on. 19 species of plants are listed as Class III protected plants. These rare and near-extinction plants are of great value for scientific study.
History of the Three Gorges
Some 4,000 years ago the Three Gorges section of the Yangtze River was the home of the Ba, an ancient people known for their craftsmanship and unique writing. Around 1,800 years ago is was the home of the kingdom of Shu. In dynastic China, the gorges inspired painters and poets and destroyed boats.
According to a report submitted to UNESCO: The Three Gorges has a long history, ancient culture and rich historical and cultural intension. Archaelogical study discovered that the prehistoric culture was Damiao culture here, where the archaecologists found out the fossils of the ancients and giant ape-men which were 2.04-2.01 million years ago. Daxi culture is one of China’s famous ancient cultural relics, which was 5000~6000 years ago. The archaecologists unearthed 5000-odd relics, 10000-odd earthenwares and 100-odd jade, bone and horn handicrafts, which should be listed in Daxi culture. In this scenic area, there are 112 ancient cultural relics, of which 47 are the relics in the Neolithic Age and the Paleolithic Age. 12 relics have been reported to the higher authority for approval as provincial protection units of historical relics. [Source: National Commission of the People's Republic of China]
“There are 2830 ancient graves which are located at 166 places, and the suspended-coffins on cliffs were found at 7 places, with 30-odd coffins at one place. Based on an incomplete statistics, there are 274 suspended-coffin holes on cliffs along Daninghe river valley. The coffins are all suspended on the cliffs 120 meters~150 meters above the ground, though their types are different from each other. It is appraised by historians that the suspended coffins were built in the period from the late of West Han dynasty to the early stage of the East Han dynasty, but when they were buried and how they were placed on the cliffs remains still a mystery. The Three Gorges is the cradle of ancient Chinese culture and also one of the earliest tourist places in China.
“Li Daoyuan, an geographer (A.D 472~527) in Beiwei Dynasty made a deep investigation on the Three Gorges 1472 years ago and gave a detailed description of the Three Gorges in his treatise. Many ancient officials, scholars, poets and painters successively came to visit the Three gorges, including Du Fu, Bai Juyi, Li Bai, Wang Anshi, Three Sus, Lu You, Liu Yuxi and Ouyang Xiu, they were deeply touched by the beautiful scenery and left behind a lot of paintings and poems. The Three Gorges have a long history and Three gorges culture nurtured many famous historical figures and legend stories, such as Qu Yuan, a great thinker, statesman and writer and Wan Zhaojun, who made a great contribution to the national concord, they were born separately in Zhigui and Xingshan Counties in this scenic area. In the past hundred and thousand years, the local people often held various commemorative activities and many oft-quoted and widely-loved stories and legends were spread far and wide among the people, which adds up to the brilliance and mystery of the Three Gorges Scenic Spot.”
According to one 18th century report, 1 out of every 10 junks sailing through the Three Gorges was damaged, 1 in 20 was completely destroyed and only 20 percent of the junks that sailed upriver to Chongqing made it unscathed. To relive the stress of the journey many crew members smoked opium. For good luck they sprinkled the blood of roosters on the bow of their ships, threw rice in the rapids, and hired shaman to wave yellow flags with the Chinese characters for the "Power of Water." When an accident occurred, swimmers were paid 400 yuan for each live person they retrieved and 800 yuan for each dead body. More money was paid for the dead because crew members believed that the ghosts of unclaimed victims hung on to the backs of their boat as gave them trouble when they went thorough the rapids.
Trackers Trackers were laborers that pulled boats through the gorges. Chinese junks are outfit with ropes and harnesses so that people on board the boat can pull it when the junk is traveling upstream or into a headwind. Children often perform this task as if they were mules. If a tailwind doesn't kick up they may have to do this for hours or even days. Up until the 8th century A.D. paddle wheel river boats were powered by human-powered cage wheels
Large boats used be pulled upstream on the Yangtze by teams of hundred of laborers known as trackers, who strapped to the boats with long ropes. In the Three Gorges you can still see footpaths used by trackers — until the 1950s, when engineers blasted treacherous rocks out of the river — to get through areas where the river is sided by steep cliffs.
Trackers still pull vessels up tributaries of the Yangtze. They often haul ropes far ahead of the boats and are given instructions by drum beats of varying rhythms. Large junks were are sometimes movers forward by 400 or more trackers, assisted by strong swimmers who loosen the ropes if they get caught on rocks.
The trackers were often whipped. "Often our men have to climb like monkeys," a Yangtze River traveler wrote, "and their backs are lashed by two chiefs to urge them to work at critical moments." Little wrote the one saw a tracker chief leap in the water and roll in the sand until a monstrous creature and then did a dance, howled and whipped his trackers."
Trackers In his book Through The Yoon Toon Gorge. English trader Archibald Little wrote: "The trackers mark time with their cry, swinging their arms to and fro at each short step, their bodies bent forward, so their finger almost touch the ground...Eighty or a hundred men make a tremendous noise at this work, almost drowning out the sound of the rapids, and so often a half a dozen junks' crews are towing like this, one behind the other. from this solemn stillness of the gorge to the lively commotion of a rapid, the contrast is most startling."
In his book A Single Pebble, John Hersey wrote: "I turned to watch the trackers...making many tons of cypress go uphill on a fiercely resisting roadway of water. It was a moving sight — horribly depressing to see more than 300 human beings reduced to the level of work animals, blind-folded asses and oxen; yet thrilling too, to see the inestimable force of their cooperation for the 350 cloth shoes of their each step up the slope were planted in the same moment, and the great sad trackers's cries 'Ayah!' were sung in great unison of agony and joy and the junks did move."
Describing barefoot trackers in the 1970s, Paul Theroux wrote, I saw "five men leaping onto the shore with tow lines around their waists. They ran ahead, then jerked like dogs on a leash, and immediately began towing the junk against the current...They strained, leaning forward, and almost imperceptively the sixty-foot junk begins to move upstream. There is no level footpath. The trackers are rock climbers; they scamper from boulder to boulder, moving higher until the boulders give out, and then dropping down, pulling and climbing until there is a stretch where the junk can sail. The only difference ...between trackers long ago and trackers today is that they are no longer whipped."
Three Gorges Dam
he Three Gorges Dam (near Yichang in Hubei Province) has been called China's most ambitious project since the Great Wall and the world's largest construction job. Comprised of one massive dam and several smaller dams, it is the world's largest hydroelectric project and is named after the Three Gorges of the Yangtze River, one of China's great natural wonders, which the reservoirs behind the dams will partly submerge. [Source: Arthur Zich, National Geographic, September 1997]
The Three Gorges Dam is a cement dam that is 186 meters (610 feet) high and runs for 1.3 miles (2.3 kilometers) across the Yangtze River. It contains twenty-six 400-ton turbines, the world's largest. The reservoir produced by dam is 370 miles long (600 kilometers), about the same length as Lake Superior. A total of 200 miles of canyons with spectacular limestone formations were submerged when the Three Gorges Dam is completed in 2009. Three Gorges Dam is five times wider than Hoover dam and is as tall as a 60 story building. Large ships bypass the dam via two five-stage locks that raise or lower the ships 500 feet. Smaller vessels will be moved up and down on a ship elevator.
Three Gorges is the world's largest dam in terms of water displacement, flood control; and power generation. There are higher and wider dams but none come close to producing as much electricity — 18,200 megawatts, enough energy to supply 10 percent of China's electricity needs and the equivalent of the electricity produced by 18 nuclear power plants. The electrical generating capacity of the world's next four largest dams are 12,600 megawatts by Itaipú in Brazil, 10,300 megawatts by Guri in Venezuela, 6,809 by Grand Coulee in the U.S., and 6,400 in Sayano-Shushensk in Russia.
Places in the Three Gorges
Interesting Sights in the Three Gorges include Goddess Peak in Wu Gorge, reportedly named after a young girl who brings good luck to all those who pass by it; Men-ling's Ladder, where a Shu army surprised an enemy by making holes into the face of a towering cliff and ascending the cliff on a ladder; small terraced farms high along narrow ridges; ancient paths carved into sheer rock cliffs for teams of trackers; and waterfalls gushing out of crevasses in green mountains.
Almost every mountain, side gorge and cliff has a name like the Fairy Princess Rock, the Ox-Liver and Horse-Lung Gorge, Pearl Number One and Two, the Seated Woman or the Punching Lions. There is graffiti on many rocks.
Shibaozhai Stone Treasured Fortress is a 12-story wooden pagoda dubbed as the Pearl of the Yangtze. An embankment was built to protect it when the water levels rose. Baidicheng, at the entrance of Qutang Gorge, is a temple that marks where the poet Li Bai composed a famous poem It has been placed on an artificial island. Dachang is famous for its wooden houses.
There are boat-shaped coffins that hang high in the gorges of the Yangtze tributaries. They were made by the ancient Ba People who were kicked out of the region more than 1,600 years ago by imperial Chinese armies. According to legend the Ba sacrificed people to tigers. Web Sites: Travel China Guide (click scenic spots) Travel China Guide
Yueyang (downriver on the Yangtze from Jinzhou in Hunan Province) is old-style Yangtze River town with markets selling straw sandals and Mao statues, and old men smoking foot-long pipes. Its main attraction is a temple honoring the Han Dynasty general, Zhang Fei, built in the A.D. third century to honor his battlefield victories. The temple has been dismantled and rebuilt on high ground to protect it when the waters behind the Three Gorges dam rise.
Web Sites: Travel China Guide Travel China Guide Budget Accommodation: Check Lonely Planet books; Getting There: Yueyang is accessible by air, bus train and Yangtze river boat. Travel China Guide (click transportation) Travel China Guide
Yueyang Pagoda (Yueyang) is one of three most famous pagodas south of the Yangtze River. Over 60 feet tall and made of wood, the three-story structure contains orange tiled roofs that look like a helmets, huge namnu pillars and a huge red terrace that supports the entire building.
Fuling (down river from Chongqing in Sichuan Province) is the pickle capital of China. Like many Yangtze River towns, it occupies a steep slope next to the river. Fuling's zha cai, a hot pickled mustard tuber, is its signature product. Historically, Fuling was primarily served by Yangtze river boats, as the development of ground transportation was slow, due to the difficult terrain. Railways arrived to the Fuling area only in the 21st century. First was the Chongqing–Huaihua Railway, completed in 2005. The high-speed Chongqing−Lichuan Railway, opened on December 28, 2013. Fuling Railway Station is located a few kilometers west of town. Web Sites : Travel China Guide (click scenic spots) Travel China Guide
The writer Peter Hessler, author the best-selling memoir “River Town: Two Years on the Yangtze,’ was an English teacher in the Peace Corps in Fuling in the late 1990s.. One his return to Fuling in the early 2010s, he wrote in National Geographic, “There is excellent cell phone coverage at the bottom of the Yangtze River, although Huang Dejian is one of the few people who know this. He’s the director of the new White Crane Ridge Underwater Museum, and today his phone rings constantly at a depth of 130 feet. The museum is the strangest sight in the city of Fuling — visitors enter via a 300-foot-long escalator encased in a steel tube, like a massive straw dipped into the muddy Yangtze. “This is the most expensive museum in the Three Gorges region,” Huang says, answering his phone again. The ringtone is a woman’s voice that urgently repeats the phrase “Jia you — go, go, go, go, go!” [Source: Peter Hessler, National Geographic, March 2013]
“The last time I saw Huang, this was all dry land, and the US$34 million museum didn’t exist, and the Three Gorges Dam was still under construction 280 miles downstream. In those days the White Crane Ridge gave me a different perspective on time. The strip of sandstone emerged only in winter, when the water level dropped. Low-water season was treacherous for boatmen in ancient times, and somebody carved two fish into the side of the ridge. They served as a gauge, allowing pilots to anticipate the shoals and rapids downstream.
“Locals associated the stone fish with good fortune, and it became a tradition to mark their annual emergence with a carved message. The earliest dated engraving was from A.D. 763, during the Tang dynasty, and eventually more than 30,000 characters decorated the sandstone. The calligraphy was stunning, and messages had the rhythm of incantations: “The water of the river retreats. The stone fish are seen. Next year there will be a bumper harvest.”
“In the 1990s admission to the ridge was three yuan, about 35 cents, which included a ride on a rickety sampan manned by an off-season fisherman. Huang Dejian used to sit on the ridge for hours, wrapped in a surplus People’s Liberation Army overcoat. He would note the water level and tell stories about the most famous carvings. During one of my last visits, on January 30, 1998, the Yangtze was exactly two inches higher than it had been at the time of the first inscription in 763. Two inches in 1,235 years — that put the changes of the reform era in a new light.
“Time moved differently on the river. The Yangtze remained a creature of cycles, even as life along the banks marched to the straight line of history and progress. And both kinds of time, natural and human, intersected at the White Crane Ridge every year. The river retreated; the words emerged; the messages and dates lined up neatly on the rock. And then the spring snowmelt would come, and the water would rise, and all that history would disappear once more beneath the timeless river.
“Now that the dam is closed, the Yangtze no longer falls anywhere near the old levels. To protect against the high water of the reservoir, Fuling has surrounded itself with a dike that is nearly three miles long and 190 feet tall. The White Crane Ridge Museum is set into the side of this massive concrete wall. Today Huang Dejian takes me to the underwater viewing gallery, where portholes face the submerged ridge. The scene is dreamlike: I recognize places where I once stood and engravings that I touched. But even familiar words seem to have a new meaning: “Pillar Rock in Midstream,” “The River Runs Forever.” What’s the significance of these inscriptions now that they lie 20 fathoms deep?
Buildings submerged by the Three Gorges Dam
“Huang Dejian smiles when I ask if he ever feels a sense of loss. His days of sitting on a cold Yangtze rock are long gone, and so is the People’s Liberation Army overcoat; today he wears a neat gray suit. In addition to handling the constant phone calls, he’s juggling my visit with that of a China Central Television film crew. “They weren’t able to do this at the Aswan Dam in Egypt,” he tells me, noting that Egyptian authorities had to move relics before they were flooded. “It makes me proud. I don’t have any feeling of loss when I come here; I feel like it’s a success. We were able to build the Three Gorges Dam and also successfully protect the White Crane Ridge.” And then Huang heads off to the television crew, and his cell phone rings its modern incantation: “Go, go, go, go, go!”“
Wushan (in Sichuan near the border of Hubei Province) is jammed against the northern shore of the Yangtze and is made up of winding streets and alleys on a terraced limestone hill. Many parts of the city were submerged by the reservoir behind the Three Gorges Dam. A new town was built for the 80,000 or so people displaced. Tourist come here for trips on the “Mini Three Gorges” on the Daning River.
On his visit to in Wushan in the early 2010s, Peter Hessler wrote in National Geographic, “I call a number for the first time in eight years. I don’t expect success: In fast-changing places no one keeps a phone number for long. But Huang Zongming answers, and soon I’m sitting on his boat. Zongming and his brother Zongguo are fishermen; I watched them move out of their homes in June 2003, when the first stage of the dam was completed. During that week the Yangtze flooded the entire district, and I felt certain that the brothers’ lives were being irrevocably changed. [Source: Peter Hessler, National Geographic, March 2013]
“But now I discover that they are the only people I know who remain virtually the same. The government paid for a new house on the banks of the Daning River, a Yangtze tributary, but the brothers prefer to sleep on their boats, as they have done all their lives. They still make their own sampans, and their clothes are just as dirty as ever. They have not been anywhere interesting. Zongming, who dislikes all land transport, has still never ridden a train.
“Today their boat cruises up the Daning, famous for its Little Three Gorges. The rapids were shallow at the time of my last visit; now the placid water is more than 300 feet deep, with new bays and inlets that cover former farmland. I ask Zongming what he thinks of the dam. He says, “The river looked better in the old days.” And that’s all he has to say — the simplest analysis I’ve heard. The brothers tell me there’s still good fishing upstream, where the rapids are low and fast. We head in that direction, and I imagine one final incantation: The weather will be perfect, the fish abundant. The river runs forever.”
Fengdu Ghost City
Fengdu (on the northern bank of the Yangtze River in Chongqing City) is a collection of Buddhist and Taoist temples situated on a mountaintop and known to Chinese as a purgatory for lost souls. Known as the City of Ghosts, Fengdu is an ancient county with a long history and rich culture. To many Chinese people, Fengdu is where the spirits of the dead go to rest.
Fengdu County offers many popular attractions for tourists; natural scenes like forests, mountains, everglade, grassland, canyons and karst caves are abundant here. The famous "Ghost City" is on Mingshan Mountain, where visitors can learn more about Chinese ghost culture.
There are many unique buildings in this "Ghost City", such as Hengha Temple, Baoen Hall, Caishen Palace, Naihe Bridge, Liaoyang Hall, Tianzi Palace, and so on. The "damned king stone" inscription is the largest rock-side stone carving statue in the world. With the completion of the Three Gorges Dam, much of the old city is submerged and the town was relocated to the southern banks of the Yangtze River
Admission: 80 yuan (includes Fengdu Mountain, Shuanggui Mountain and Ghost Country Palace), Tel: +86-23-70613323. Getting There: By Bus: One can take a bus from Chaotianmen Bus Station in Chongqing City; the ride is about three hours long.
Qutang Gorge (one of the Three Gorges) is eight kilometers long and the first, most spectacular and shortest of the three gorges. It is only eight kilometers (five miles) long but is regarded the most beautiful of the three gorges. It is celebrated for its magnificent, peculiar and precipitous scenery in the world;
Boats travel through sections of the gorge only 140 meters wide and negotiate bends that make the river look as if it has disappeared. Along the copper-colored cliffs are cedar coffins of ancient Ba people and footpaths used by trackers, laborers who roped-together and pulled cargo junks upstream through the gorge until the 1950s, when engineers blasted treacherous rocks out of the river.
According to a report submitted to UNESCO: Qutang Gorge is the shortest, but has many landscapes and is world-famous for its magnificent and precipitous scenery. On the banks of the gorges, Chijia and Baiyan Mountains oppositely stand, the mysterious rock walls look like two giant gates and control the flow of Yangtze River. The magnificent mountains and turbulent waters are of great momentum and are acclaimed by the people as the acme of perfection. [Source: National Commission of the People's Republic of China]
Wu Xia Gorge
Wu Xia Gorge (Witches Gorge, one of the Three Gorges) is 42 kilometers long and the second and formally the most treacherous of the Three Gorges. The river hereis lined with 3,000-foot-high limestone peaks with names like Climbing Dragon and Flying Phoenix. It used to be filled with rapids and whirlpools but these have been calmed by the dam. Strong gusts of wind howl through the narrow passages.
Wu is the deepest gorge and and is serene and secluded and presents a panorama of lovely scenery, According to a report submitted to UNESCO: Wuxia Gorges, the longest one, with deep valleys, soaring fascinating mountain peaks rising from the river banks, is serene and secluded, presents a panorama of lovely scenery, and looks like a beautiful mountains-and-waters painting gallery. In Wuxia Gorge scenic area, there are also ‘three platforms, eight scenery’ and the famous twelve peaks. [Source: National Commission of the People's Republic of China]
Badong (just east of Wu Gorge) is a Yangtze River city within the Three Gorges. Situated down river from Fuling in the town of Xinling in Sichuan Province, it is famous for Shen Nong Stream, which falls into the Yangtze opposite the Badong center city. The Yangtze was flooded here by the Three Gorges Dam but Badong was mostly above the flood line, and thus more of the original town remains than in other river towns along this section of the Yangtze. Web Sites: Travel China Guide (click scenic spots) Travel China Guide
Xiling Gorge is 66 kilometers long and the last and longest gorge as one heads downtiver. It was well-known for its dangerous rugged shoals and the turbulent waters that have since been smoothed out by the Three Gorges Dam reservoir. Junks running downriver here used to reach speeds of 20 miles per hour and were occasionally splintered apart by submerged rocks that since then have been either dredged or blasted out or submerged.
According to a report submitted to UNESCO: Xiling Gorge is well-known for its numerous hidden rocks, dangerous shoals and rocks, and turbulent rapids. The famous new shoal, Kongling shoal and Yaocha River is all located in this gorge. The gorge has numerous rapids and shoals, water flows circuitously, peaks rise one higher than another, strange peaks and peculiar rocks are of great momentum, karats caves can be found everywhere, and there are 174 caves in this gorge. There are also many small gorges in this area except the famous Three Gorges. [Source: National Commission of the People's Republic of China]
Gezhouba Dam (northwest of Yichang in Sichuan Province) was the largest hydro-electric project in China until the Three Gorges Dam was built. The dam is 8,000 feet long and 210 feet high and produces 2.7 billion kilowatts of power every year. Located at the dam is the Chinese Sturgeon Aquarium, a project that is intended to help the Chinese sturgeon, the largest sturgeon in the world, reach spawning grounds blocked by the dam. Fish ladders, like those used by salmon in North America, have been built to help the fish go up and down stream.
Three Little Gorges
Three Little Gorges (accessible from Wushan) are said by some people to be even more impressive than the Three Gorges. The gorges are named of Libi, Wentang and Guanyin. To reach them you must go to Wushan and take a 6-hour launch trip on the Daning River. Another popular trip is a white water trip in peapod sampan down Dragon Gorge.
According to a report submitted to UNESCO: “The gorges located at river branches are relatively small, but they are very beautiful, peculiar and precipitous. High mountains tower aloft on the banks of Yangtze River; there are more than 20 mountains with the elevation over 800 meters, 20 mountains with the elevation over 1000 meters and 13 mountains with the elevation over 2000 meters. Water in branch flows into Yangtze River from the elevation of 1000 meters. The mountains mingle together with rivers and form a precipitous and beautiful mountain-and-water Scene. There are 13 mountains with towering peaks, dense forest and beautiful landscapes, including Chijia, Baiyan, Tianzhu, Dalaoling, Huangniushan, Xiannu, Xiaoshenlongjia and Wanchao Mountains. [Source: National Commission of the People's Republic of China]
Wushan (in Sichuan near the border of Hubei Province) is jammed against the northern shore of the Yangtze and is made up of winding streets and alleys on a terraced limestone hill. Many parts of the city were submerged by the reservoir behind the Three Gorges Dam. A new town was built for the 80,000 or so people displaced. Tourist come here for trips on the “Mini Three Gorges” on the Daning River. See Above
Baiheliang Ancient Hydrological Inscription
Baiheliang Ancient Hydrological Inscription ( north to Fuling City, Chongqing) was nominated to be a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2008.According to a report submitted to UNESCO: Baiheliang (White Crane Ridge) is located in middle of the Changjiang River. The name comes from cranes which used to gather on the stone ridge in the past. The stone ridge is 1600 meters long and about 25 meters wide, approximately parallel to the south bank. It is submerged under the water all year round and only appears during the low water season of the river in winter. The stone ridge has a leucocratic sandstone surface which is rather flat with a 14.5°northward obliquity. Lying on the main traffic route of the Changjiang River the ridge provides a very good location for inscription. [Source: State Administration of Cultural Heritage, People’s Republic of China]
“Baiheliang is the earliest low water hydrological inscriptions to be found in China and in the whole world, it also has the longest history of continuity and largest number of records. The accomplishment of the T hree Gorges Dam has ended this cultural tradition of inscription records. Baiheliang ancient hydrological inscriptions have provided a very special testimony of the disappeared cultural tradition. Baiheliang ancient hydrological stone inscription has recorded low water level data of the Changjiang River of 72 low water years over about 1200 years since the first year of Guangde period in the Tang Dynasty (763 A.D.) to the early years of this century. With the large number of underwater inscriptions, long history, authentic and detailed water level records, rich inscription contents, diversified forms and perfect integration with the Changjiang River and the environment, Baiheliang is an outstanding example of the underwater landscape.
Baiheliang is called a great underwater wonder. In 1988, the State Council of the People's Republic of China listed Baiheliang ancient hydrological inscriptions as Key Cultural Relic under State-level Protection. The launch of the Three Gorges Project causes the stone ridge to be submerged under the water surface of the reservoir. To protect this valuable cultural relic and enable the public to see this historical landscape, the authorities concerned have designed Baiheliang site underwater protection project and the plan has been approved. The protection project was launched in 2003. The sectional reinforcement of the carvings and the prevention of the rock from breaking off, as well as accurate mapping, replication and rubbing works have already been accomplished.
History of the Baiheliang Hydrological Inscriptions
According to a report submitted to UNESCO: “Ancient Chinese had used inscriptions to record the water level changes of the Changjiang River in low water seasons over the past one thousand years, and provided a very sound standard for the study of the low water changes of the Changjiang water level. The ridge is divided into the upper, middle and lower sections and the inscriptions concentrate on the 220 meter-long middle section, especially the eastern part of the middle section. Since the first year of Guangde period of the Tang Dynasty (763 A.D.), people had started to carve stone fish on this natural stone ridge to record the lowest water level in the year. It was believed that when the water receded and the stone fish appeared the next year would see bumper crops as the saying predicted "out of the water appear the rock fish, out of the field come rich crops." People of different dynasties carved onto the stone ridge the time of the appearance of the stone fish, the distance from the stone fish to the low water line as well as the observers' name and the scene in the form of poems. [Source: State Administration of Cultural Heritage, People’s Republic of China]
“According to incomplete statistics: literal inscriptions total more than 160 sections and more than 30,000 words among which 98 sections are inscriptions of the Song Dynasty, five of the Yuan Dynasty, 16 of the Ming Dynasty, 23 of the Qing Dynasty, 14 of the Republic of China, and still there are a few segments with years unknown. There are 18 rock fish carvings, one in relieve, two in bass-relief, and 15 in line engraving. It has recorded the low water level data of the Changjiang River in 72 low water years over about 1200 years since the first year of Guangde period in the Tang Dynasty to the early years of this century.
Since the Tang Dynasty when men of letters, officials, and merchants of different ages traveled via Fuling and the stone fish happened to appear, they would come to the stone ridge by boat, lingering there and writing poems to be inscribed in the middle of the river. There are more than 300 names which could be identified on the stone. Among them people like Huang Tingjian, Zhu Ang, Qin Jiushao, Liu Jia, Huang Shou, Wang Shizhen, Gong Wu etc had all enjoyed the honor of having biographies in official historical records. The inscriptions exhibit a full spectrum of different schools and styles in calligraphic art covering seal, official, running, cursive, and regular scripts, and styles of Yan Zhenqing, Liu Gongquan, Ouyang Xun, and Su Shi. The inscriptions are in Chinese and Mongolian. In particular, the inscription left by Huang Tingjian, the literary master of the Song Dynasty, when he was demoted and transferred to Fuzhou Prefecture is the most famous. It reads "Old man from Fuling visits here in the Gengchen year of Yuanfu Period (1100 A.D.)." Though several words, they have passed on the easiness and graceful bearing of the poet.
Three Gorges and Three Gorges Dam Tourism
The Three Gorges — Qutang gorge, Wuxia Gorge and Xiling Gorge — stretch from Baidi City in Chongqing to Nanjinguan of Hubei with a total length of 192 kilometers. Taking a boat cruise, visitors can enjoy the river and mountain vistas. As a historically and culturally important location in China, the area has many important historical scenic spots, including Shennv Peak, Gaotang Temple and Baidi City as well as Three Gorges Dam. Admission: 150 yuan.
The three main hiking routes in the area are: 1) Xiling Gorge: from Sandouping to Xindui, 26.5 kilometers, 8 hours; 2) Wu Gorge: from Peishi to Wushan, 28 kilometers, 9 hours; 3) Qutang Gorge: from Wushan to Daxi, 25 kilometers, about 6.5 hours
Three Gorges Dam Tours are offered of but only 1,000 visitors are allowed on the dam each day and they can only stay for 20 minutes after a very strict security check. At least those were the rules a few years ago. The tours began in 2005 and are usually held from July to September when a spectacular flood discharge is on display. The commentary by the guides is often very nationalistic with comments such as the project was completed with “wisdom and resolution of the Chinese people to harness rivers." In a park are plastic rocks and sculptures of giant screwdrivers and electrical plugs. A fine viewing platform was set up in the village of Zhongbao that offers splendid views of the dam. Unfortunately the US$385,000 platform was deemed illegal and closed by the state. Travel Information: Best time to visit: April to November; Admission: Three Gorges Dam: 105 yuan for adults
Three Gorges Boat Trips
Three Gorges Boat Trips are how most tourists visit the Three Gorges area. Some of the boats are in good condition and tourist have had a wonderful time. Others have broken plumbing, sagging beds, shabby cabins, poor maintenance and rats, and tourists have an awful time. If you are worried about getting stuck on bad boat you are advised to make your travel arrangements with a reputable tour operator like Victoria Cruises (Tel: 1-800-348-8084), Viking River Cruises (Tel: 1-800-706-1483); and Uniworld Grand River Cruises (Tel: 1- 800-257-2407)
Most of the downstream cruises begin in Chongqing. Passengers usually disembark at Yichang or Wushan, but some continue downriver 1,500 miles to Shanghai. The high season months are April, May, September and October. The shoulder season months are March, June, July, August and November. During the winter, the views are often veiled by mists. The rates for trip with reputable tour company run between US$100 and US$150 a day.
The Three Gorges has been diminished by the dam but not affected too much. Boats that ran along the river expect to continue working on the lake. Mountains that towered 2,600 to 3,600 feet above the water will be 2,100 feet to 3,100 feet above the water instead. The cliffs are still impressive in many places but the once raging currents have been tamed and the water is now calm. Dizzying footpaths that had ben carved into the cliffs have been submerged. Web Sites: Travel China Guide Travel China Guide
Yangtze River Cruise Chinese-Style
One traveler wrote in the China Daily: “There's a proverb that says, "You haven't been anywhere until you've traveled the Yangtze"... The river's largest port, in Chongqing, is the departure point for our trip.... We take a boat for domestic tourists rather than one of the swanky crafts favored by most foreigners. These include the recently launched MS Yangzi Explorer, which has all the facilities of a five-star hotel, including movie theater, espresso bar and fitness center. We reason this is a holiday away from the treadmill and there will be more local color on the good ship Hainei Guanguang 10. We are not disappointed. [Source: China Daily, May 14, 2009]
“After a bit of haggling near the city port, where the Jialing River flows into the Yangtze, we pay 580 yuan (US$85) each for a two days-and-nights cruise. This compares with US$3,900 for the Explorer. The boat is set to sail at 10:15pm and the agency boss arrives at our hotel with a "bang-bang man" to carry our luggage. These migrant workers earn a living by transporting heavy goods with just a bamboo pole. Our porter is gaunt and short but carries our luggage at a clip and arrives by the quayside before we do. Guilt makes us generous and we pay him 50 yuan (US$7). Not bad for 15 minutes of work.
“Our second-class accommodation is sparse but reasonably clean, with four bunk beds and a large window, the sort fitted in old-style Beijing apartments. No amount of perfume can disguise the smell emanating from the hole that passes as a toilet, despite my mother's best efforts. There are four decks above water and a couple below, where the accommodations are decidedly spartan and close to the ship's engines.
“On time, we slip our moorings, drift into the shipping lane and watch the dazzling nightlights of Chongqing fade into a memory. Meanwhile, our ship's captain creates a kind of son et lumiere experience by shining a searchlight on the far bank and sounding his foghorn.Early next morning we are between Fengdu and Zhongxian. The scenery has changed from industrial to post-industrial (beached, rusting ships) and farmland. There's no fan or air conditioning and although the cabin window is open as far as it can go the atmosphere is muggy, which drives everyone up for air onto the decks. The mist clears and there's a scent of honeysuckle, which is grown for its medicinal properties. Families stake out territories by sitting in a circle on the prow and pass around steamed buns for breakfast. Someone commandeers a small plastic chair and scans the bank with binoculars. Most passengers seem content to enjoy the scenery, talk or read.
“Though the ferry picks up and deposits passengers en route we do not have time for sight-seeing. This might have been a mistake. There is an abundance of interesting stopover points, we are told, among them the "ghost city" of Fengdu; Wanxian's night market; historic temples in Fengjie; and the Qu Yuan Shrine in Zigui. We stop for a couple of hours in one port and an army of surveyors comes on board with tape measures. We halt again at a floating station for gasoline. Nevertheless, we're content and there's plenty to see not just from the boat, but also on it. We take the occasional stroll below-decks where, in the absence of organized entertainment, there are long games of cards in smoky cabins. Relaxation is key. The majority of our fellow travelers wear flip-flops, pajamas and T-shirts rolled up to expose belly buttons. As for dining, it's best to take your own supplies, otherwise you'll be buying pot noodles at the shop, or experiencing galley food, a diet of rice and vegetables seasoned with pickles and washed down with beer.
“After another night we're in the Three Gorges, an approximately 192 kilometers stretch of scenic beauty comprising Qutang, Wu and Xiling gorges. There's fresh excitement at this juncture and every other passenger becomes a photographer-even if all they have is a phone. They snap towering limestone cliffs and point out the famous peaks. The river here is sometimes more like a lake, with islands in the middle inhabited by farmers. They tend orange groves, herb gardens and golden rape fields. The blossoms of spring and the falling leaves of autumn makes these the ideal seasons for a cruise. Summer is too hot and winter, too cold. We arrive early afternoon in Yichang, which used to be known as "Gateway to the Gorge", but is now as much a stopping off point for visits to the Three Gorges Dam. We could go further, downstream to Wuhan, scene of the Battle of Red Cliffs, to Nanjing and Shanghai. But we have had enough of adventure and it's good to be back on terra firma.”
Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons
Text Sources: CNTO (China National Tourist Organization), China.org, UNESCO, reports submitted to UNESCO, Wikipedia, Lonely Planet guides, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, China Daily, Xinhua, Global Times, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Bloomberg, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Compton's Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.
Updated in July 2020